Despite having moved to Fukuoka only seven months ago, Melisa is already an active member of the city’s international community. Working full-time as a scientist at a company in Kurume, she’s busy, but still finds time to produce CICLO, a bilingual web-based magazine with her husband. In addition to articles on sustainability, there’s a helpful catalog of recommended products and services and much more. They also run events such as beach cleanings that provide an opportunity to meet like-minded souls. Read our interview to learn more.
Profile: Scientist, Nationality: Mexican. In Japan: 4 years
First, can you tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from and how did you come to live in Fukuoka?
I was born in Mexico, but from the age of 6, I lived in the US in Oregon. I came to Japan in 2016 as a university student. I studied plant genetics and molecular biology at Tsukuba University in Ibaraki Prefecture. I graduated in August last year and I got a position at a pharma venture in Kurume and I am currently a researcher there.
Now, let’s talk about your magazine, CICLO! – What does CICLO stand for?
The word CICLO is a Spanish word meaning Cycle. We wanted the name of our magazine to be something a little bit deeper and closer to my culture and what I was brought up with as well as what I learned during my university studies. CICLO is trying to bring back the natural cycle of the earth and the environment because everything is based on cycles, like the seasons and the weather. And, as you know, currently we are having a lot of issues maintaining that natural cycle. One way to fix this is by exploring the reasons why we are having these issues and share the stories of people who are trying to find solutions to current environmental problems.
So, why did you decide to start CICLO?
The reason why my husband and I started the magazine is because what I learned at school really opened my mind to all of the problems that are occurring in the world today, especially those related to science. At that time, I had a collaborator in my home country in Mexico who felt the same way, but her idea was to start some sort of company related to biodegradable plastics in Japan. And that’s when we started doing research on our own related to biodegradable plastics and how the recycling of plastics is done in Japan versus other countries. But, we realised that biodegradable plastic would not be the best solution to the plastic problem in Japan because they don’t have suitable composting facilities that would be able to degrade the product. So, then, we decided to break ties with our collaborators in Mexico and thought that starting an online magazine to spread more sustainability awareness in Japan would be a better solution.
Who creates the content for CICLO?
At first, it was just me or my husband. We started out with just the two of us, but we got a lot of feedback from people who saw our website and wanted to collaborate in some way. We were often contacted by university students studying sustainability related things who wanted to put information out there for other people to know. So, then it wasn’t just us writing, but other people as well, which broadened CICLO’s contributor base.
What content has been the most popular in the magazine?
I would say content which is useful for people’s daily lives: Something like, ‘I want to be more eco- but what can I do?’ A popular one that I wrote was about waste management: I had a professor at my university who is a researcher of waste management in Japan. There were a lot of things that I learned from his class that I thought were really important to share, especially because he is a professional in the field. So, I went ahead and interviewed him about the plastic recycling system in Japan, asking, for example: ‘‘Why do we have to sort garbage into separate piles? Like, what occurs after that?’ I think a lot of people were interested in reading about that because not everyone can just talk to scientists and get all of this information.
Can you tell us about your readership? Are most people in Japan or overseas?
I think most of our readers are foreigners in Japan. We have both English and Japanese websites, but we really wanted to target Japanese readers more because we feel like many foreigners already know all this information from their own countries. And, I think we’ve had success with Japanese students. We’ve had a lot of contact from students who have learned about these issues through their university studies and are wanting to do something. We’re hoping that we can continue collaborating with more Japanese university students to help us spread the word more towards the Japanese audience.
Now, let’s talk a little about the sustainability events you’ve organized.
We moved to Fukuoka in August and we wanted to continue CICLO or sustainability related things. We really wanted to start something; not just the website, but action-based! We thought about doing beach cleanups since we are so close to the beach here in Fukuoka. We thought that would be perfect. We met other like-minded people and organized a group called “Fukuoka for Sustainability” or “FFS” for short. We did our first beach cleanups in Shikanoshima starting last October and then held meetup events with our supporters in the chillier months. Now, we are planning another big cleanup starting in April. However, this year we would like to go beyond simple beach cleanups. We are currently thinking about other things we can do to reach a wider audience, such as organizing booths at local festivals/events or setting up a clothes swap/recycle event!
You also have the CICLO Catalog on your website. What prompted you to start it?
After starting the magazine, we thought about what we could do besides just share information. From the research and interviews we conducted for CICLO, we began to find out more about sustainable brands and products. We wanted to make it easy for people to transition into a more eco-friendly lifestyle and created the catalog with this idea in mind. CICLO Catalog is an easy way to find sustainable products all in one place.
So, what products would you recommend from your catalog?
We would definitely recommend the sustainable renewable energy provider, Minna no Denryoku. They provide up to 75% renewable energy sources to power your home (including wind, solar, biomass and water power). This is all coming locally from Japan, from small groups or businesses investing and producing in green energy. The craziest part is that the price does not differ at all from regular energy cost through conventional coal-based energy sources and the same power lines can be used to get energy supplied by Minna no Denryoku. It’s super easy to sign up online and a great part about their service is that they donate a portion of your monthly bill to support the people supplying you with the green energy.
What do you think people can do now, in the short term, to be more sustainable?
I think one easy thing we can all do is bring our own water bottles. The usage of PET bottles in Japan is crazy, especially with all the convenience of vending machines and conbini. But, a very easy way to combat this is to just bring your bottle and refill it. Unfortunately, Japan doesn’t have as many public refillable stations as other countries, but we have another suggestion. There is an app that recently launched called ‘MyMizu’ that displays where there are local drinking fountains or businesses who are willing to refill your bottle. And, in return, they might get a purchase from you! It’s a free app.
What are you most excited about in the field of sustainability?
I think we can show how powerful the voice or actions of normal people can be. Especially through our cleanups. Our goal is to show that we can do sustainable actions without it seeming like a chore; instead, it’s more of a fun event to meet people, get together, and go to the beach! People think that sustainability or being environmentally aware is a huge challenge. But, we hope to show people that even small actions can actually make a big difference.
And how do you see Japan’s future in terms of sustainability?
Japan is gearing towards making more changes due to the Olympics. They know how many foreign people are going to come to Japan. And, I think Japan now has a little bit more awareness with regards to where they are compared to the rest of the world when it comes to environmental issues. So, I think this is a very good time to start some sort of movement in terms of sustainability. And, we would love to be part of that!
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you love about Fukuoka?
I love that it is compact, but it has everything you need. And that people are really friendly and welcoming. And I love how there is a lot of diversity; there are a lot of people from different countries and there is a lot of mingling of people, so it’s really nice
If you were the mayor of Fukuoka for just one day and you could do anything to improve the city, what would that be?
Definitely put more water refill stations and – well, there are a lot of plants already, but maybe if we could add more greenery, I think it would be really nice
How long do you plan to live in Japan
For now, we are thinking at least five years, but it really depends on my work. We really love Fukuoka, so if we can find a really good place to build a house or something we might just stay here forever. But, as of now, at least five years.
What does the Fukuoka International Community need more of?
Maybe more events where we can mingle with Japanese people and international people and kind of get together and exchange language. Just make it like a fun and friendly event. I think that’d be really cool.
What’s your advice for foreigners who want to settle here in Fukuoka?
If you have some sort of hobby or something that you like to do, there are a lot of great facebook groups that have a lot of meetups at local bars or izakaya here. So, I think just go out there and search and meet a lot of great people.
Has living in Japan changed you in any way?
Yes, I think so. It’s really made me aware of my weaknesses and strengths, especially while I was studying. I was paying through my whole college, my whole tuition, I paid everything for myself and that really pushed me to do my best in my part time and my studies and maintain a scholarship. So, that was really hard, but I’m really glad that I got through that.
What are you good at that other people might be surprised to learn?
I don’t think I’m good at it, but I really like to do karaoke and full-on sing Disney songs, but I guess that is just a pass-timer. I am not good at it whatsoever.
Do you have any message to our readers?
If you ever thought that your voice or your actions are not heard or that it doesn’t matter; that’s not true. When you find people with a common goal or a common thing that you want to achieve, I think you can find those people and you can achieve your goals. And don’t hold back!
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn256, Apr 2020)